New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (9-3) at Atlanta Falcons (7-5)

Two weeks ago, I bet on the Falcons -9.5 at home against the Buccaneers in an eventual 14-point win. My argument was that, even though they had been underwhelming at times this season, the Falcons still were healthy and had a top-5 team on paper, returning essentially the entire core of the team that made the Super Bowl in February. On top of that, they’ve played a tough schedule and have played relatively well against playoff caliber teams. They have home wins over the Cowboys and the Aaron Rodgers led Packers and a road win at night in Seattle, the same circumstances in which the Eagles just lost. The Falcons have lost in Carolina and New England, but they nearly won in Carolina and their 16-point loss in New England was closer than the final score. Even in last week’s home loss to the Vikings, they kept it close in a 14-9 loss, despite tough circumstances.

Those tough circumstances are the reason I did not bet them last week, as the Falcons were missing top cornerback Desmond Trufant and had to play again in 4 days in this game on Thursday Night Football. The Falcons lost left guard Andy Levitre with injury last week and he’s been having a solid season, but they get Trufant back, which is more important. I still think they are a smart bet moving forward, especially since this line has shifted from Atlanta -2.5 to New Orleans -1.5 in the last week. That’s relatively insignificant line movement in between the field goals, but I still have this line calculated at -3, as I have these two teams about even.

The Saints had some tough circumstances last week too, with top cornerback Marshon Lattimore, left tackle Terron Armstead, and safety Marcus Williams all sitting that game out with minor injuries to prepare for this Thursday Night game. Despite that, they were able to beat the Panthers 31-21, but that game was closer than the final score, as the Panthers botched a punt in their own territory and then extended a New Orleans drive with a personal foul penalty 3 plays later. Had that not happened, the Panthers might have been able to kick a field goal early in the 4th quarter, rather than going for it on 4th and 6 down 14. The Saints only ended up winning the first down rate battle by +0.09%, despite the 10 point win. I think the Falcons are a slight step up in class from the Panthers anyway, especially in Atlanta. The Falcons are worth a bet both against the spread and on the money line.

Also, by request, I’m going to be posting lines I lock in early in the week during my Thursday Night writeups this season, so readers can lock them in before they move. These are not all my picks for the week, just picks where I think the line may move in an unfavorable direction (usually underdogs). The rest of the writeups will continue to be posted over the weekend as normal.

OAK +4 @ KC

SF +3 @ HOU

CAR +3 vs. MIN

CLE +3.5 vs. GB (I’d also take +3)

JAX -2.5 vs. SEA

Atlanta Falcons 27 New Orleans Saints 24 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +1.5

Confidence: Medium

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (8-3) at New Orleans Saints (8-3)

The Saints had their 8-game winning streak snapped last week in Los Angeles. The Rams are a tough opponent and the Saints were missing their top-2 cornerbacks, Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley, so it wasn’t a huge shock, especially since the Rams were home favorites. The Saints return home this week, but they have another tough matchup with the Panthers coming to town. They also still have injury issues. While Crawley is expected to return, the Saints will be missing talented rookie safety Marcus Williams and pass catching tight end Coby Fleener, while Lattimore and left tackle Terron Armstead are questionable after being limited in practice all week this week.

Making matters worse, the Saints have to turn around and play an even tougher game in Atlanta on 4 days rest on Thursday Night Football next week. That might mean the Saints hold out either Lattimore and/or Armstead with the intention of them being 100% for the Atlanta game, but even if both play the Saints are still in a terrible spot with that game on deck. Favorites are 64-95 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football and divisional home favorites are just 24-62 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs. Both of those trends are very much in play here.

The Panthers have a tough game next week too, as they face the Vikings, but at least that game is at home in Carolina and on normal rest. The Panthers are favored by 3 in that one on the early line, while the Saints are 3 point underdogs in Atlanta. Underdogs are 67-41 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. That trend is not quite as relevant as the two aforementioned trends because Carolina’s next upcoming game isn’t easy, but there’s no denying that the Panthers enter this game in a much better situation schedule wise.

The Saints beat the Panthers 34-13 in Carolina back in week 3, but that was when Cam Newton was still working his way back from off-season shoulder surgery. The Panthers also didn’t have either center Ryan Kalil or tight end Greg Olsen in that one and both could play this week, though they might not be 100%. Teams tend to avenge on divisional home upsets anyway, as divisional road underdogs are 66-37 ATS since 2002 in regular season, same season revenge games against a team that previously pulled an upset against them. These two teams aren’t far off in talent, so it makes sense that the Panthers would at least come close to evening the season series this week, especially since the Saints could overlook them a little bit, given that they’ve already beaten them and that they have another big game in 4 days.

All of that being said, I wish we were getting a better line than Carolina +5. That’s about what I have this one calculated at, so we aren’t getting any real line value with the Panthers. The Saints are banged up, but they are the better team, as they rank 3rd in first down rate, while Carolina ranks 11th. The Saints’ 8 victories have all come by more than a touchdown, while just 3 of Carolina’s have. The Panthers still worth a bet because of the terrible spot the Saints are in and they should be able to keep this within a field goal or so, but this is just a medium confidence pick. I will upgrade this to a high confidence pick if the line shoots up to 6 before game time or if either Lattimore or Armstead are ruled out.

New Orleans Saints 23 Carolina Panthers 20

Pick against the spread: Carolina +5

Confidence: Medium

New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (8-2) at Los Angeles Rams (7-3)

I didn’t have confidence in either side of the Rams/Vikings game last week in Minnesota, but I was rooting for the Rams so I could get a better line with the Saints in this matchup this week. The Saints were -2.5 on the early line and I thought we could get -3 if the Rams could pull out the upset in Minnesota against a Vikings team that had to play again in 4 days on Thanksgiving. Instead, the Rams lost by 17 and this line remains at 2.5. About 15% of games are decided by exactly a field goal, so not getting protection against a Rams field goal win really hurts the Saints’ chances of covering.

The Rams’ loss in Minnesota against a team in a bad spot reinforced my belief that the Rams’ strong start was largely the result of a weak early schedule, but the Saints are not nearly at 100% in this game. They lost talented starting defensive end Alex Okafor for the season with a torn achilles, while their top-2 cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley will miss at least this week with injury. Those three players have been key to this team’s defensive turnaround this season, so the Saints could struggle defensively this week. The Rams have some injury problems too, with top receiver Robert Woods and slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman out with injury, but they aren’t missing nearly as much as the Saints.

Even without those three, the Saints are still probably the best team the Rams have faced this season though, as they are a legitimate top-3 roster when healthy. The Rams have gotten to 7-3 on an easy schedule, as 5 of their 7 wins have come against the Cardinals, Colts, 49ers, Texans, and Giants. Beating the Cowboys and Jaguars is impressive, but the Cowboys were without top linebacker Sean Lee in that game and the Rams scored two special teams touchdowns against the Jaguars. In addition to that, they’ve also lost at home to the Seahawks and Redskins.

The Saints could easily make that 3 home losses, as they are better than both Seattle and Washington. The Rams haven’t had much homefield advantage since moving to Los Angeles anyway, going 3-8 ATS there since moving before the 2016 season. The Rams don’t have quite the same trouble getting home fans in Los Angeles as the Chargers, but they do attract a lot of road fans and I’d expect that to be the case this week for this big game. I have this line calculated at New Orleans -2, so we are getting some line value with the Saints at +2, but I’d need the full field goal to be confident in the Saints. I will make a small bet on the money line at +110 though, as I do expect the Saints to win.

New Orleans Saints 23 Los Angeles Rams 20 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +2

Confidence: Low

Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints: 2017 Week 11 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (4-5) at New Orleans Saints (7-2)

The Saints emphatically defeated the Bills in Buffalo last week, winning by the final score of 47-10 and winning the first down rate battle by 27.61%. That’s the best single game margin in the NFL this season. They rank 2nd in first down rate differential on the season and 3rd in my roster rankings. One of the best teams in the league, the Saints are a true Super Bowl contender and are a strong candidate to face the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship. However, this could easily be a trap game for the Saints, because, after this game, they head to Los Angeles to take on another 7-2 NFC team, the Rams, a game in which the Saints will likely be underdogs.

The Redskins, meanwhile, get the Giants in Washington next on their schedule, a game in which they should be significant favorites (-8.5 on the early line). Underdogs are 65-40 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. On top of that, underdogs of 7 or more are 63-40 ATS since 1989 before being favorites of 7 or more the following week. That being said, we aren’t getting any line value with the Redskins as 9 point underdogs. I have these two teams about 7.5 points apart in my roster rankings, so the Saints should be favored by at least 10, if not 10.5. If this line moves to 10 before gametime, I will revisit this pick, but for now this is a low confidence pick.

Update: +10 has popped up in some places Sunday morning. Grab it if you can.

New Orleans Saints 30 Washington Redskins 23

Pick against the spread: Washington +10

Confidence: Medium

New Orleans Saints at Buffalo Bills: 2017 Week 10 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (6-2) at Buffalo Bills (5-3)

The Bills started the season 5-2 on the strength of a league best +14 turnover margin, but turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and they ranked just 28th in first down rate differential. Last week, they lost 34-21 in New York to the Jets as 3.5 point road favorites, in a game in which they lost the turnover margin by -3. They also had a first down rate differential of -5.54% in that game and still rank 28th in first down rate differential on the season at -3.89%. If we assume turnover neutral football for the Bills in the second half of the season, which you almost always should when evaluating a team given how inconsistent turnover margins are, the Bills will have a lot harder time winning games in the second half of the season.

Despite Buffalo’s big loss, I was still able to lock this line in at -2.5 in favor of the visiting Saints earlier in the week, the same line as the early line last week. You can still get that line in a few places for a higher vig. I have these two teams about 6.5 points apart in my roster rankings, so this line should be at least -3, if not higher. About 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so the difference between -2.5 and -3/-3.5 is pretty big. The Saints are 6-2, have won 6 straight, rank 6th in first down rate differential, and have one of the more talented rosters in the NFL thanks to a much improved defense. Only about 8% of games are decided by 2 points or less, so the Saints basically need to just win here. They should be able to win this game by at least a field goal. This is a high confidence pick.

New Orleans Saints 27 Buffalo Bills 21

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -2.5

Confidence: High

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5) at New Orleans Saints (5-2)

The Buccaneers were a popular playoff pick before the start of the season, but the public seems to have soured on them, as a result of a 2-5 start. They haven’t been quite as bad as their record though, they rank 15th in the NFL in first down rate differential. Three of their 5 losses have been by 5 or fewer points (Arizona, New England, and Buffalo) and they would have beaten the Patriots had if they had made one of three missed field goals. They’ve since changed field goal kickers.

How they’ve played this season is actually pretty impressive considering all the players that have missed time so far this season. Cornerback Brent Grimes, safety TJ Ward, linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, defensive end Noah Spence, defensive tackle Chris Baker, running back Doug Martin, and quarterback Jameis Winston have all been out of the lineup at points this season. They still aren’t fully healthy, as Grimes and Spence remain out, while Winston may still not be at 100% with a shoulder injury, but they’re as healthy as they’ve been in a while.

They lost last week at home to the Panthers, but they were in a bad spot in that game with this tough divisional matchup on deck. I expect a much better effort from them this week with their season on the line. Unfortunately, they have a very tough matchup in New Orleans against a Saints team that has a much improved defense and is arguably one of the top-5 teams in the league. We’re getting 7 points with the Buccaneers, but I have this line calculated at -6, so we’re not getting a lot of line value with Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are underrated and better than their record, but the Saints might be a little underrated as well. I’d need at least 7.5 points to consider putting money on the Buccaneers.

New Orleans Saints 30 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +7

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints: 2017 Week 8 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-4) at New Orleans Saints (4-2)

I’ve taken the Bears in 5 of 7 games this season, as I’ve thought all season they were an underrated team. In those 5 games, they went 4-1 ATS, including straight up victories as underdogs against the Steelers, Ravens, and Panthers. They have an above average defense, an above average running game, and an above average offensive line and can give good teams problems. However, I think the public is starting to catch on following Chicago’s wins over the Ravens and Panthers in the past 2 weeks, two games in which they didn’t allow a single offensive touchdown, so I don’t know if you can call them underrated anymore.

This week they go to New Orleans to face the Saints, another team that has been underrated for a while. As a result of that and Chicago’s two recent wins, we’re not getting much value with the Bears this week, as they are 9.5 point underdogs on the road against one of the better teams in the league. The Saints offense is still about as good as it’s ever been, but their defense has taken a major step forward this season, led by defensive end Cameron Jordan and cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who are both playing at an All-Pro level.

The Bears managed just 5 first downs last week in their 17-3 win over the Panthers, as the defense provided 14 points on two returns and a big play by running back Tarik Cohen set-up a field goal for another 3. That 5 first down performance dropped them to 28th in first down rate at 30.55%. They’ll need to do much better than that this week, as they’re unlikely to be able to rely on huge plays and return touchdowns for points. In order to do that, they’ll need rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky to make some plays, after running a very conservative offense in his first 3 starts. I’m not sure if he’s capable of that, not necessarily because I don’t believe in his talent, but because he’s inexperienced and working with arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL. For that reason, I’m taking the Saints here at 9.5, but I would take the Bears at 10. That’s how close this is for me.

New Orleans Saints 27 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -9.5

Confidence: None